The music industry has finally reached an agreement with songwriters and record producers to allow music fans to download unlimited tunes for a flat monthly fee.
The RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) and the NMPA (National Music Publishers' Association) approved the deal yesterday.
Under the new agreement, dubbed the 'mechanical licence', all members of the RIAA, which includes Sony and EMI, will be able to access a database of licensed songs from the Harry Fox Agency, the largest publishing agency in the industry.
Royalties remain undecided, but the RIAA will make an advance payment to the agency of $1m (£680,000) until an agreement has been reached.
"Subscription services may now begin licensing thousands of musical works immediately," said RIAA president Hilary Rosen.
But it may be too late for song-swapping site Napster, which will receive a decision over its liability for copyright violations later today, as it has already lost a significant number of its users since introducing its subscription-based service. Added competition created by the RIAA/NMPA agreement is likely to make its survival even tougher.